Opinion: International Rugby League wins again

Anyone watching the opening games of this year’s Four Nations tournament on television on Saturday couldn’t have failed to be impressed by the quality of the games and by the obvious enjoyment of most of the spectators in an almost full to capacity Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.

To judge by what we saw in the first game, there must be a very substantial Samoan population in Brisbane. The Samoan fans, decked out in blue, got the Four Nations off to a vibrant start and the whole afternoon came across as an event that we would all dearly love to have been present at.

And yet you could probably have counted the England supporters in the stadium on the fingers of one hand.

Why were so few England supporters there?

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The reason is because the Four Nations timetable was not finally confirmed until a few months ago.

The fixtures were confirmed far too late for all but the most fervent and wealthy supporters to be able to make the trip, leaving the rest of us at home to watch the games on television.

Despite that, the opening matches drew an almost capacity attendance of 47,813, and it is fairly obvious that another 5,000 England supporters, if they had had time to save their money and book a trip, would have taken it to capacity.

The lesson for the Rugby League International Federation must surely be that the major international events have to be planned well in advance and announced in a way that gives supporters plenty of time to book trips to watch their teams.

Why it should be so difficult for the RLIF to do this is anyone’s guess.

But we hope that under its Chairman Nigel Wood, and a chief executive soon to be appointed, we will soon see much more joined-up thinking that actually takes supporters into account.

And there are some signs that that is starting to happen.

After all, we now have a four-yearly cycle of World Cups planned for the future, which we have never had before.

We have the Pacific Island nations rising to challenge the big three of Australia, England and New Zealand, to such an extent that the Samoans came close to beating us in Brisbane.

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In the old days there were really only two major Rugby League nations – Great Britain and Australia. The Ashes tours were the State of Origin of their day.

Sadly, those days are unlikely to return.

But we would prefer to celebrate what we have, than lament what we don’t have.

And in our view the future of international Rugby League has an awful lot going for it, especially if England can beat Australia in Melbourne this Sunday.